WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Amanda Spadafora

Amanda Spadafora graduated from the Faculty of Health Studies with an honours specialization in Health Science and a minor in Biology. Between rigorous studies, leading in one instance to a perfect score on a final exam, she invested just as much of her time in extracurricular activities. She was a first-year representative in Perth Hall for the Purple Spur, took part in work study for four years, worked as a peer leader and a LAMP mentor, as well as joined Go Girls to help underprivileged girls in elementary school realize their potential. This just breaks the ice. Seemingly non-stop, she has excelled, leading to entry in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Here’s her advice to first-year students reflecting on what she has learned thus far:

Challenges

  • High school came easily to me and I didn’t really have to work for anything. So when I came to university, I wasn’t prepared for how much work I had to do. I thought I would just be able to learn everything quickly – like I did in high school – and I didn’t. So I would party a lot and push work aside. but I learned from those habits quickly

The new me

  • There’s no way I can unlearn what I’ve learned now.
  • The Health Sciences program has really shaped my political views because a lot of the social determinants of health are non-modifiable. It’s not as simple as exercising to stay healthy or to quit-smoking and eating healthy; those are things you can change. But a lot of the things are education, housing, gender, culture, income and social environments, which are not easy to change. So I am for social assistance now, and any type of programs that helps marginalize populations to achieve better health, whereas before I didn’t fully understand value of why taxpayer money is going toward those programs
  • I am more resourceful now because no one in my family is in medicine. I really had to do things on my own and forge my own path
  • Because Western is such a big university and there are so many people better in certain areas than you here, no matter how smart you are, there’s always going to be someone smarter. It really makes you humble. It really makes you realize that, yes, you can still be really good at something, but there’s always going to be someone better. I think that’s a really positive thing.

What’s in store?

  • I’m not afraid to admit I made a mistake or I don’t know something, and I think that’s a good thing. If someone comes in with something I don’t know, I’m not going to feel pressure to give them an answer. I would feel OK saying “I’m not 100 per cent sure about this, but I’ll go look it up or talk to a colleague” because I don’t have an ego.
  • It’s not hard for me to go to class and sit in lecture because I love what I’m doing.

Learn around the world

  • I did a three-week program in India called the ISSJS (International School for Jain Studies). They only take 15 students from around the world. We went to learn about Jainism. We’d have ‘lectures’ in the morning where we would learn about the religion and do meditation and then in the afternoons we had time off so we could explore.
    It was the most life-changing experience because I‘ve never been to a developing country before. With India, you don’t really know what to expect because it’s so foreign. So I didn’t go with any expectations. It’s very eye-opening because there are a lot of really beautiful things in India – very ornate temples, marble carvings – and right beside that will be a slum where people live under draped cloth. So it’s eye-opening because it’s really hard to appreciate some of the beauty of India when you see so many people suffering.

Words of wisdom

  • I wish I knew that first-year marks do count.
  • People in first-year tend to think they need to know what they want to do beyond school. But you don’t.
  • You need to be open-minded and self-reflective because you learn so much in university. A lot of the time students just process it while they’re learning, spit it out onto exam paper and then forget about it. But if you can actually connect it to your own experiences and to how it might affect you in the future, then you can reflect back on it and grow as a person.
    For example, I’ll say “OK, people with poor education or from a low income may have poor health indicators. But what can I do about that?” So then maybe I get involved in a program that does a health promotion campaign, or you can change who you vote for. You can really see what adds value to yourself.
  • I wish I would have gone to see an academic councilor more often because they have so much information about what you can do within your faculty.
  • I try to always have a positive outlook on things, and when I’m very stressed I just remember I’m fortunate to be here getting an education so no matter what happens I should just be happy

Influences

  • If I see anything good in someone, I’ll try to reflect that. It could even be someone speaking really well in class; I’ll take note of that and try to work on that.